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Stricter Ozone Standards Could Constrain America

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 1, 2015

Here’s probably the most important thing to know about new, more restrictive ozone standards announced by the Obama administration: They could impact job growth in nearly one-third of all counties or county equivalents in the United States, according to a recent API analysis of EPA data. That’s 958 counties – up from just 217 under the current standards – projected to be in non-attainment with ozone standards set at 70 parts per billion (ppb).

So, unless Congress acts (as it should), get ready. These new standards will pretty much hit a lot of Americans right where they live – potentially hurting jobs, chilling investment and curbing business activity, for little or no public health benefit.

We’ve written quite a bit recently about the potential effects of more restrictive ozone standards (herehere and here). They’re objectionable for a number of reasons:

Current standards are working

According to EPA’s own data, ozone levels declined 18 percent since 2000:

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EPA and the administration, while compelled to regularly review national ozone standards, could have retained the current standards of 75 parts per billion – because they’re working and would continue to make our air cleaner. The current standards weren’t even fully implemented by the states when EPA started working on making them stricter. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better example of a government agency regulating for regulation’s sake. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“Current ozone standards protect public health without further stifling jobs or harming our economy. Our nation’s air is getting cleaner as we implement the existing standards, but the administration ignored science by changing the standards before allowing current standards to work. It’s time for Congress to step in and block this unnecessary and costly regulation to protect American consumers.” 

Questionable science, dubious public health claims

In congressional testimony earlier this year, Tony Cox, chief sciences officer with NextHealth Technologies, called EPA predictions of public health benefits from its ozone proposal “unwarranted and exaggerated” and questioned the scientific basis for them:

EPA’s conclusions about the causal impacts of ozone reductions on public health are not derived from objective science or statistical analyses of causation. Instead, EPA’s conclusions rely on unreliable subjective judgments of selected experts; on models that they concede are inaccurate and have large but unquantified uncertainties; and on mistakenly treating association or correlation as causality. None of these methods produces trustworthy conclusions. … Ozone levels have already fallen in recent decades by far more than the proposed amounts in many locations in the United States. Yet analysis of public health records shows that these large reductions in ozone levels have caused no detectable public health benefits. Thus, EPA’s assumption that smaller future reductions in ozone will do so is unwarranted. There is no need to repeat the costly effort to obtain better public health by further reducing ozone levels when we already know from abundant historical experience that doing so does not work.

Supporters of stricter ozone standards claim they’re needed to improve public health, linking ozone with worsening asthma. Yet, Dr. Michael Honeycutt, director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Toxicology Division, questioned the connection:

“The problem with this association is that asthma diagnoses are increasing in the United States, yet nationwide, air quality is improving. If asthma were actually tied to ozone, you would expect to see the instances of asthma decreasing, not increasing. In fact, data from Texas hospitals show that asthma admissions are actually highest in the winter, when ozone levels are the lowest.”

Potential harm to the economy, harm to Americans

The Institute for Energy Research’s Thomas Pyle called the new standards a “gut punch to poor and middle-class families.” Hard to disagree when you see the NERA economic analysis that warns stricter ozone standards could put millions of jobs at risk while potentially costing the economy billions. Gerard:

“Further tightening the standards will not improve air quality any faster, but new regulations will hurt jobs and the economy by imposing unachievable emission reduction requirements on virtually every part of the nation. … Operating under such stringent requirements could stifle new investment across the nation.”

Yes, hitting Americans where they live – and work. The National Association of Manufacturers’ Jay Timmons called the new standards “overly burdensome, costly and misguided.” Timmons:

“(T)he new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and take a stand for working families.”

Congress must act. The move on ozone is part of a regulatory onslaught by the administration that could harm the economy and kill jobs while chilling new investment and expansion. Howard Feldman, API senior director of science and regulatory affairs earlier this year:

“Fundamentally, we question the wisdom and the motivation behind burdening our nation’s still recovering economy and the American consumer with more, costly regulations before the current regulations have been given time to work. … A lower standard could, for little or no health benefit, significantly constrain our nation’s economy and eliminate thousands of jobs.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.